Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates

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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

QANON WINS CREATE HEADACHE FOR GOP: Gun rights activist Lauren Boebert’s upset win over Rep. Scott Tipton (R) in Colorado this week is the latest in a string of victories for candidates who have publicly expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

At least eight such candidates for the House will appear on general election ballots this fall, while another two are headed for runoffs. While the majority of them are running long-shot campaigns in uncompetitive districts, at least two are currently favored to win, including Boebert.

Meanwhile, Republican Jo Rae Perkins — who has supported QAnon, walked the support back and then committed again — is running against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) in the safe blue state of Oregon.

The Republican establishment has largely avoided discussing QAnon so far, even as the once-fringe theory continues to pick up credibility from candidates.

“They’re sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place because the more the core of the Republican Party tries to disassociate from it, the more it actually validates the core tenants of what QAnon stands for,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, which has been tracking mentions of QAnon by candidates.

The QAnon theory posits that President Trump and the military are working together to expose a shadowy cabal of figures in media, entertainment and politics who currently control the world.

The movement gets its cues on the progress of that mission from Q, a mysterious figure who posts cryptic messages on image boards including 4chan, 8chan and 8kun.

The QAnon conspiracy theory is expansive. Travis View, an expert on the community and co-host of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, explained to The Hill that it’s better to think of it as a “meta-conspiracy theory that can include almost any other conspiracy theory.”

Everything from the belief that John F. Kennedy Jr. never died to accusations that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex trafficking ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza restaurant fits under the theory’s broad roof.

Read more about QAnon here. 


SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ROBOCALLS BAN: The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a decades-old federal regulation that prohibits robocalls to cellphones and expanded the ban to include government debt-collection calls.

A divided court preserved most of a 1991 law that imposed a general ban on automated calls. But the justices struck down an amendment that Congress passed in 2015 to carve out an exception for robocalls to collect government debt.

The case, which was argued by conference call in May due to the coronavirus, arose after a political consulting trade group asked the justices to strike down the entire Telephone Consumer Protection Act on free speech grounds.

The justices declined to go that far, deciding that the unconstitutional government debt-collection exception could be stripped from the otherwise lawful regulation.

“Invoking the First Amendment, they argue that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favors debt-collection speech over political and other speech,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court.

“We hold that the 2015 government-debt exception added an unconstitutional exception to the law,” he added. “We cure that constitutional violation by invalidating the 2015 government-debt exception and severing it from the remainder of the statute.”

Read more about the ruling here. 


OVERSEAS VOTING CONCERNS: A group of Senate Democrats led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Bob Menendez (N.J.) are urging the State Department to take steps to ensure military personnel and other Americans living overseas are able to vote in the November general election.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent last week, the group of over a dozen senators asked for details on the agency’s plan to ensure all Americans living overseas were able to receive and send back absentee ballots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to restrict travel and mail service in many countries around the world,” the senators wrote. “Without proper planning, this could jeopardize the ability for Americans overseas, including U.S. service members and diplomats, to vote in the November election.”

They pointed to concerns around U.S. embassies and consulates, normally responsible for assisting with the voting process for those living overseas, not being fully staffed during the pandemic. The senators also questioned whether embassies were planning voting information campaigns, and what the process was for those living near embassies and consulates to drop off their ballots.

“We recognize that there may be conditions in individual countries that are beyond the control of U.S. officials that could make voting more difficult, but we must take steps now to attempt to overcome those challenges,” the Democrats wrote. 

The State Department did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. A spokesperson for Klobuchar told The Hill that her office had not received any response from the agency. 

The letter was sent on the heels of Democrats, voting rights groups, and other advocacy organizations ramping up pressure on Congress to pass legislation to increase mail-in voting during the 2020 primary and general elections due to concerns around the pandemic. 

Read more about Democrats’ concerns here. 


FOREIGN HACKERS TAKE AIM: Federal officials and experts are warning that foreign cyber criminals are targeting U.S. businesses and Americans who are working from home on less-secure networks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millions of Americans have shifted to working at home indefinitely to help halt the spread of COVID-19, placing them outside of more secure office networks and away from company IT professionals. 

According to a senior intelligence official, foreign cyber criminals are taking notice. 

“We see extensive criminal use of ransomware, some of which are clearly Russian criminals, there is a lot of that there,” the official told reporters Wednesday on targeting of American companies and employees. “We do carefully pursue where we see nation state usage, that is certainly an area of intel development as well.”

Ransomware attacks, which have spiked during the pandemic, involve a hacker gaining access to a network, encrypting it, and demanding payment to allow the user access again.

The official’s comments were made in response to questions around a report published last month by Symantec, a division of cybersecurity group Broadcom. 

Symantec’s Critical Attack Discovery and Intelligence Team found that a Russian cyber criminal group known as “Evil Corp” was targeting Fortune 500 companies, in at least one case potentially accessing networks of U.S. newspapers by targeting company employees. 

Evil Corp was previously sanctioned by the Treasury Department in December for allegedly stealing more than $100 million from banks and financial institutions in over 40 countries. 

Marc Rogers, the executive director of cybersecurity at software group Okta, told The Hill he was not surprised that foreign-based cyber criminals were targeting Americans during the pandemic, describing the current situation as a “golden opportunity.”

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for them, there has never been a worldwide event of this scale during the digital era,” Rogers told The Hill on Thursday. 

Read more about the threats here. 


UBER BUYS POSTMATES: Uber has reached an agreement to acquire food delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion, the companies announced Monday.

The deal will help Uber grow its food delivery service, Uber Eats, one of the ride-hailing giant’s sole growing ventures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Food delivery has soared in popularity in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic keeps many Americans home.

However, profits have remained elusive, leading several companies in the space to consider consolidation.

Read more about the deal here. 


COMME CI COMME ÇA ON HUAWEI: The French government will encourage telecommunications companies to avoid using equipment from Chinese telecom group Huawei, but will not ban the use of the equipment altogether, French newspaper Les Echos reported this week.

Guillaume Poupard, the head of French cybersecurity agency ANSSI, told the newspaper that the government planned to advise French companies to avoid using Huawei equipment in the rollout of 5G networks, but would not place a complete ban on Huawei. 

“What I can say is that there won’t be a total ban,” Guillaume Poupard told Les Echos according to a Reuters report. “For operators that are not currently using Huawei, we are inciting them not to go for it.”

Poupard noted that for French companies already using Huawei products, the government would issue authorizations to allow these companies to use Huawei products for a further three to eight years. 

The reported upcoming French decision comes on the heels of the United Kingdom reportedly backtracking on its policies towards the company and considering speeding up the process of removing all Huawei equipment from its networks after recent moves by the Trump administration limited the company’s ability to do business. 

The Telegraph cited a leaked report from the UK intelligence agency GCHQ in reporting Sunday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being pressured by officials to phase out all Huawei equipment from British networks by 2029. According to The Telegraph, members of Johnson’s party plan to urge him to move that deadline up to 2024, the end of the current Parliament. 

The British concerns mostly cite recent moves by the Commerce Department to limit Huawei’s ability to do business in the U.S. and with U.S. allies, with British officials noting that these limits could force Huawei to use vulnerable equipment in British 5G networks. 

Concerns around Huawei largely stem from a 2017 Chinese intelligence law that requires Chinese companies and citizens to disclose sensitive information to the government if requested. U.S. prosecutors have also brought charges against the company for intellectual property theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice, among others. 

Read more about the international moves around Huawei here. 


HONG KONG SECURITY LAW REPERCUSSIONS: Facebook and Twitter are among the social media platforms temporarily denying data requests from Hong Kong officials in the wake of a new national security law imposed on the semi-autonomous region.

The law imposed by China is aimed at curbing opposition to the ruling Communist Party. It was passed last Tuesday without significant input from local authorities and gives Beijing broad powers to crack down on practically any dissent, including protests, and regulate the city’s previously open internet. 

A spokesperson for Facebook told The Hill the company is “pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law” on all of its platforms.

The company will consult with international human rights experts before making a decision on whether to comply with data requests on Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp users.

Twitter paused all data requests immediately when the law went into effect last week, the company told The Hill.

“Given the rapid pace at which the new National Security Law in China has been passed and that it was only published in its entirety for the first time last week, our teams are reviewing the law to assess its implications, particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition,” a spokesperson said.

Read more about the data requests here. 


Lighter click: Twitter is a (relatively) safe space

An op-ed to chew on: Will Twitter make @realDonaldTrump a one-term president? 


Hackers are exploiting a 5-alarm bug in networking equipment (Wired / Andy Greenberg) 

This year’s summer campground: our bedrooms and living rooms (The New York Times / Nellie Bowles) 

The federal government says Bird got at least a $5 million bailout loan, but the company denies it (Verge / Andrew J. Hawkins)

Black women say Pinterest created a den of discrimination — despite its image as the nicest company in tech (Washington Post / Nitasha Tiku)

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bob Menendez Brett Kavanaugh Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley Mike Pompeo Ron Wyden Scott Tipton
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